In 2012, Loyola University did not rate a mention in most preseason polls of Division I men's lacrosse teams. Three months later, the Greyhounds won the national championship.
In 2013, the crowded athletic trophy case at the University of North Carolina lacked a championship plaque for its women's lacrosse team. On Memorial Day weekend, the upstart Tar Heels filled that empty spot with a triple-overtime championship win against previously undefeated Maryland.
It's a long way from mid-February to late May. The explosive growth of lacrosse during the past 20 years has brought unpredictability, and it's increasingly difficult to know who will play for the championship. Here's an initial outlook for the 2014 Division I women's lacrosse season in Maryland.
Maryland came close to winning a national championship in 2013. After 22 consecutive victories, the Terrapins suffered their only defeat of the season during a triple-overtime loss to conference rival North Carolina. Maryland, ranked second in the IWLCA preseason poll, won its most recent national title in 2010, and could compete for another at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium in May.
Despite the graduation of top scorers Alex Aust and Katie Schwarzmann, coach Cathy Reese's team is loaded with offensive talent. Maryland returns five of its top seven scorers, led by junior attacker Brooke Griffin (49 goals, 24 assists in 2013) and sophomore midfielder Taylor Cummings (43, 14). Also on hand are midfielders Kelly McPartland and Beth Glaros and attacker Kristen Lamon, who combined for 77 goals and 35 assists a year ago. The Terrapins' final season in the ACC will feature a schedule of national powers, including North Carolina, Virginia and Duke, plus ACC newcomers Syracuse and Notre Dame.
A youthful Loyola team went 11-9 and reached the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament before losing to North Carolina. Ranked ninth in the preseason IWLCA poll, the Greyhounds are poised to make a deeper run this spring. Coach Jen Adams' club is favored to win the Patriot League title during its first season as a conference member, but must face a daunting early-season schedule -- which includes Virginia, Princeton, Florida, Penn State and Towson -- before beginning league play.
Senior attacker Marlee Paton (39 goals, 25 assists in 2013) is one of the nation's most accomplished players. Supporting Paton will be a host of returning scorers from Loyola's standout junior class, including Annie Thomas (26, 27), Taryn VanThof (28, 18), Hannah Schmitt (33, six), Sydney Thomas (14, 16) and Kara Burke (25, three). Sophomore goalkeeper Molly Wolf returns to lead a defensive unit that surrendered 10.10 goals per game a year ago.
Navy has become an NCAA tournament regular. The Midshipmen, who finished with a 19-2 record in 2013, have won four straight Patriot League titles and advanced to the second round of the 2013 postseason before losing to Duke. But this season brings a strong challenger to Navy's reign, as Loyola joins the Patriot League. On April 19, the Midshipmen will travel to Loyola for a regular-season finale that could determine the top seed in the league tournament.
Coach Cindy Timchal's team, ranked 18th in the IWLCA preseason poll, lost the nation's leading scorer. Jasmine DePompeo totaled 56 points and 71 assists in 2013. Also gone is Kathy Young (45, seven). But Navy welcomes back two proven scorers in attackers Aimee Gennaro (64, 16) and Loren Generi (62, 13). Junior goalkeeper Annie Foky (7.13 goals allowed per game) should be the anchor of the traditionally strong Navy defense.
In 2013, Towson rode an explosive offense to its second consecutive CAA title and NCAA tournament appearance. The road ahead could be harder for the Tigers, who are ranked 19th in the IWLCA preseason poll, but lost three of their top six scorers to graduation and must face Georgetown, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Loyola before the middle of March. Rhiannon Cogle, the Tigers' top goal scorer with 41 in 2013, and Jackie LaMonica (26 goals, nine assists) will be especially tough to replace.
Coach Sonia LaMonica will rely on senior attacker Ashleigh Rohrback, the Tigers' 2013 points leader with 19 goals and 32 assists. A pair of juniors, midfielder Paige Duncan (19, 14) and attacker Sarah Maloof (12, 17), should give the Tigers additional offensive options. The performance of junior goalkeeper Kelsea Donnelly (8.5 goals allowed per game) should be crucial to Towson's hopes for another conference title and return trip to the NCAA tournament.
Before moving to independent status in 2015, Johns Hopkins will take another shot at winning the American Lacrosse Conference title. The Blue Jays finished 10-7 overall in 2013, including 2-3 in a league that perennial champion Northwestern dominated.
Even if coach Janine Tucker's team doesn't dethrone the Wildcats, it is poised to make a run at its first NCAA tournament berth. The Blue Jays return an experienced lineup, which includes their top five scorers. Senior attacker Taylor D'Amore (29 goals, 49 assists in 2013) can score and set up teammates such as senior midfielders Sarah Taylor (43, three) and Sammy Cermack (28, 18).
Seeking Better Times
UMBC went 8-8 last season during its first year under co-coaches Amy Appelt and Tony Giro. With nine starters returning, the Retrievers could move up in the America East, in which they finished tied for fourth place last spring. UMBC will have to replace goalkeeper Kendall Mason. But the squad's top four scorers are back, led by junior midfielder Alyssa Semones (32 goals, 12 assists in 2013). Also returning are junior attacker Abby Wilson (23, 19), senior midfielder Kristen Bilney (28, 10) and senior attacker Shannon Harkey (28, six).
Mount. St. Mary's was 7-11 overall in 2013, posting a 6-3 mark during Northeast Conference play. The Mountaineers graduated top scorer Kaitlyn Larrimore and starting goalkeeper Sarahjane Leder, but coach B.J. Johnson should be able to rely on the productive senior duo of midfielder Lindsay Diaz (25 goals, three assists in 2013) and attacker Hannah Gutcher (13, 13).